In Part One of a series discussing the need for legal protections for couples who live together in a committed, long-term relationship but do not get married, Collin County family attorneys recommended cohabitation agreements which can define the parties' property rights, financial expectations, and other concerns during and after their relationship. In Part Two of this series, our family law attorneys explore what kind of legal agreement is needed to protect those same couples when they have children.

The fact is that today, it is quite common for people to commit to each other--to even get engaged--but to skip the walk down the aisle. Consequently, 40% of children in the U.S. are born to unmarried parents, the majority of whom are adults in committed relationships and not the teen parents typically associated with children born outside of marriage. Indeed, Hollywood has made it fashionable to have children while engaged--sometimes indefinitely. Although some couples who are living together decide to formalize their status through marriage when they discover they will be parents, because there is no longer a stigma attached to children born to unmarried parents, many couples do not see the need to alter their existing arrangement. 

Collin County family law attorneys have found that these couples benefit the most from Parenting Agreements. Although unmarried parents can resolve issues of child custody, support and visitation at the time of a break up (should one occur) through mediation or the courts just as a couple going through a divorce could, it is much preferable to to resolve the issues as much as possible upfront when the couple is on good terms and can focus on what is in the best interests of the child(ren). Spousal support and mandatory health coverage for an ex-spouse (through COBRA) does not apply absent a marriage; therefore this is an area to be negotiated and included in an agreement.  The financial and physical health of a parent is, after all, in the best interests of a child. 

Decisions regarding physical and legal custody of children, the parameters of child support, and parenting time with each party are some of the main issues to be addressed in a comprehensive parenting agreement. Reaching consensus on what often become contentious issues when a couple parts ways is not only good for the child or children involved, but the couple as well. Religious upbringing and education are two additional issues that should be addressed in a parenting agreement. Many couples today are multi-faith and multi-cultural, giving couples choices as well as controversies over how to raise their children. Discussing the options at the outset is helpful, even for couples that remain together. The issue of education is similar; with choices of public, private, or religious-based education, it is always a good idea to come to an agreement on how to educate your children early on.

If you are a couple living together who have or are about to become parents, contact the Collin County family law attorneys at Nordhaus Walpole, PLLC, about formulating a Parenting Agreement that is right for you.